Arrival (2016)

16 Nov

Arrivalthe latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy), adds to a recent tradition of what has been termed “the science-conscious sci-fi film.” Following in the steps of films like Interstellar and The Martian , Arrival presents us with a problem that lands squarely on the shoulders of scientists for figuring out.

Here, we have Louise (Amy Adams) a linguists university professor who has been called in by a secret military faction led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), because of her optimal translation skills and her previous clearance with handling government-classified areas. The reason is simple: mysterious extraterrestrial ships have been found across the globe and the US government is desperate to make some sort of contact with whoever is inside these ships in an effort to get answers before public panic sets in. Of course, communication with alien beings proves to be easier said than done, and increasing tensions between world governments escalate while the probability of finding a peaceful Q&A session fades to violence.

Villeneuve is no doubt one of the most talented directors working today and he brings a singular film adapted from a short story written by Ted Chiang. As a director who prefers subtlety over boldness, Villeneuve’s take on the alien invasion drama draws tension from the moments that aren’t shown on screen rather than those that are given to us. Most of the events are presented in minimalistic fashion (a stylistic choice that hasn’t been seen in the genre since maybe Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin?) with an emphasis on the physiological versus physical conflict within the characters. A chopped-up narrative featuring flashbacks and flashforwards adds confusion early in the film but makes its place known in the narrative later on.

Supporting Amy Adams is Jeremy Renner playing Ian, a theoretical physicist who teams with Louise in an effort to reach understanding of the extra-planetary visitors. Though both are fine actors, and give much to the film individually, the pseudo love-interest stuff between the couple feels fake and forced. Standard, sure-fire dialogue is everywhere in Arrival, where many characters’ lines feel like either direct exposition or a statement of the blatantly obvious settings. But like most Villeneuve’s work, it’s the sentiments in between the lines that becomes the most compelling. Here, we have vast thematic inklings of philosophy, language, and the nature of violence sprinkled around the obvious “don’t shoot, they are peaceful” lines that place Arrival neatly into blockbuster territory. The result is a typical story wrapped in an artful, minimized, and ideologically-heavy package.

Bottom Line: Denis Villeneuve’s latest focuses more on big ideas than it does big explosions, which might be a bit trying for viewers expecting the traditional alien invasion. Though it dives into melodrama territory a bit too often, Arrival is a well-directed piece of sci-fi that feels paradoxically both intimate and ambitious. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipie: Interstellar (2014) + Solaris (2002)

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